Ritalin Addiction, Abuse and Treatment

In the early 1990s, Ritalin production dramatically increased in the U.S., which corresponded to an increase in Ritalin abuse and dependence.

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Understanding Ritalin

Ritalin, despite being prescribed to children for long-term, is highly addictive and should be taken with great caution.

Ritalin is a methylphenidate, which is a central nervous system stimulant. Methylphenidates have similar effects and pharmacological uses similar to amphetamines and cocaine.

Ritalin comes in tablets and capsules and is mostly prescribed to children and adults for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or narcolepsy. It comes in both sustained-release and extended-release compounds. When used according to a prescription by properly diagnosed individuals, Ritalin has a calming effect and helps them focus on tasks. There is widespread agreement that Ritalin, when taken as prescribed and intended, is a comparatively safe drug.

Although it has demonstrated significant efficacy in treating ADHD, Ritalin also comes with high abuse potential. In the surge of Ritalin prescriptions throughout the 1990s there was a consequent rise in abuse. Ritalin is especially dangerous as a recreational drug both because recreational users typically take much larger doses than what would be prescribed and because recreational users typically crush the pills and either snort or inject them, delivering the medication to the body much faster than it was intended. If you or a family member are struggling with a Ritalin addiction, learn how to get help.

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Ritalin Abuse and Effects

Like amphetamines, which are also known as “speed” or “uppers,” Ritalin increases alertness and concentration. It is often abused by professionals, students and athletes to increase productivity. It is listed as a Schedule II federally controlled substance because of its high potential for abuse.

Consumption of methylphenidates like Ritalin is markedly higher in the United States than in other countries. This is likely due to how accessible it is. Many students who are prescribed Ritalin have given or sold their medication to other students to help them study. Students may also take Ritalin simply to feel high.

The effects of Ritalin usually last for between 3-4 hours. The half-life of Ritalin (how long it takes for half of the drug to work its way through the body) is highly variable depending of numerous factors. For children, it is approximately 2.5 hours. For adults, it is approximately 3.5 hours. Depending on how long the user has taken Ritalin, among other factors, the half-life can reach 7.7 hours.

Those who abuse Ritalin typically do so because they are trying to exacerbate the side effects of the drug, including a euphoria that is not generally found at therapeutic doses. Individuals with a proper ADHD diagnosis do not typically experience significantly increased energy level when taking Ritalin, but non-ADHD individuals often do because the drug effects them differently. People abusing Ritalin through inappropriate doses, without a prescription, or by snorting or injecting the drug, run the risk of negative side effects, including:

  • Suppressed appetite
  • Anxiety
  • Chest pain
  • Changes in blood pressure
  • Overdose
  • Confusion
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Headache
  • Agitation
  • Insomnia
  • Paranoia
  • Fatigue
  • Altered heart rate
  • Respiratory depression
  • Nervousness
  • Hypersensitivity
  • Panic Attacks

Side-effects can vary depending on whether the individual has a diagnosis of ADHD or not. Just like all medications, when someone takes a medication they are not prescribed, the negative side-effects can be different and/or greater.

Those with mood disorders, like bipolar disorder, who abuse Ritalin may experience even worse symptoms and behavior. This is because Ritalin is a central nervous system stimulant that can trigger manic episodes in some individuals. Therefore, it is important to talk with a physician before beginning to take any stimulant medications, such as Ritalin.

Signs of a Ritalin Addiction

Just like other stimulants, Ritalin increases the levels of dopamine reaching neuron receptors in the brain. Dopamine is a naturally occurring chemical in the brain essential for activation of the brain reward system. The brain reward system reinforces behavior that activates dopamine production. Some people with ADHD have too many dopamine transporters, which results in low levels of dopamine in the brain. Ritalin blocks these transporters, keeping dopamine levels at a healthy level, increasing attention, focus and impulse control. However, Ritalin influences a much higher amount of dopamine to reach receptors in the brain for those who don’t have ADHD. After repeated abuse, taking Ritalin basically becomes a learned behavior, spurring on the compulsion to take Ritalin regardless of consequences.

A telltale sign of a problem is continuing to use Ritalin despite wanting to quit. If someone recognizes that there are severe negative consequences from using Ritalin — such as straining relationships and spending unmanageable amounts of money on the drug — but still can’t quit on their own, an addiction is likely present. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders outlines criteria of addiction. Learn how professionals diagnose Ritalin addiction today.

Other signs of a Ritalin addiction include:

  • Taking Ritalin in larger amounts or for longer than prescribed
  • Spending a lot of time getting, using, or recovering from use of Ritalin
  • Experiencing cravings and urges to use Ritalin
  • Neglecting responsibilities at home, work or school
  • Continuing to use Ritalin, even when it causes problems in relationships
  • Giving up important social, occupational, or recreational activities because of Ritalin use
  • Using Ritalin again and again, even when it puts you in danger
  • Continuing to use Ritalin, even when you know you have a physical or psychological problem
  • Needing more Ritalin to get the effect you want (tolerance)
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms due to sudden cessation or rapid reduction of dose
  • Experiencing sudden changes in mood, such as mood-swings
  • Isolating oneself from family or friends

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Treatment for a Ritalin Addiction

The course for treatment may be different depending on when the person started using Ritalin. Those prescribed it at a young age often have a harder time overcoming a physical and mental dependence on it, because most of their young life has been spent on it. Treatment programs for Ritalin addiction should target the underlying behaviors and thought processes that cause Ritalin use — whether it’s merely a habit, a recreational activity, or rooted in a desire to excel in athletics or academia.

Treatment programs for Ritalin addiction often incorporate behavioral therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, in order for the individual to learn how to manage symptoms of ADHD without medication. There is also an alternative, non-addicting ADHD medication, called Strattera, which is often prescribed to individuals who suffer from ADHD and addiction. This can be a healthy alternative to using Ritalin or other stimulants. The combination of psychotherapy with non-abusable medications can be very beneficial in assisting the individual with learning healthy coping skills and managing ADHD symptoms.

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Benefits of Ritalin Addiction Treatment

There are many benefits of treatment for a Ritalin addiction, including:

  • Encouragement and support from others who are facing the same types of challenges
  • Ability to safely talk about and process your experiences with a therapist while exploring the root causes of your addiction
  • Ability to participate in family therapy and work on improving your relationships
  • Education on the disease of education
  • Knowledge of healthy coping skills, including relapse prevention strategies, and the ability to practice implementing them in a safe environment
  • The ability to take the time you need to truly invest in yourself and improve your physical and mental health

Ritalin Abuse Statistics

16

percent

Over 16 percent of college students have taken methylphenidates, such as Ritalin, for recreational purposes.

85

percent

The United States produces and consumes approximately 85 percent of the world’s supply of Ritalin.

5.9

million

Approximately 5.9 million children have been diagnosed with ADHD, for which the leading treatment is a Ritalin prescription.

Getting over any addiction isn’t easy, and an addiction to Ritalin is no exception. Repeated use of the drug will lead to a physical dependence on it, spurring withdrawal symptoms when stopping. Withdrawal symptoms, such as depression and fatigue, can be serious and necessitate a reputable detox program.

However, battling the physical side of an addiction to Ritalin is only part of recovery. To continue a successful recovery you will need the support of others. Support groups and behavioral therapy have helped countless people beat their addictions. Contact a treatment provider to get help taking control of your life.

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